Peru is the largest exporter of cocaine in the world and 30% of the population (an estimated 8 million people) live in poverty. There is virtually no assistance to the poor, especially to those in the high Andes, where poverty is most rampant. Many women living in the Andes have no access to education and find the only way they can support their families is by trafficking small quantities of drugs. The women are often coerced into this work and drug sentencing laws in Peru are extremely strict. 90% of the women incarcerated in the Yanamilla Prison are incarcerated for drug-related offenses. These women typically serve 10-15 year sentences.
The Yanamilla Prison Project assists these women in several ways.
In Peru, prisoners are obligated to pay a monthly fee for their incarceration and many women have children to support inside and outside the prison. The first, and immediate, goal of the project is to help the women generate income while incarcerated by buying and selling their products at fair trade prices. We work with the women in developing new products using traditional Andean materials and establishing a stable market for their goods in the United States.
By creating economic opportunities for these women, Ruraq Maki hopes they will see there are alternative employment options to the drug trade and will pursue these options upon their release.
Ruraq Maki supports the women by providing free educational workshops that help the women acquire new skills that they can use to generate income. We offer basic and advanced jewelry classes, basic and intermediate wire working classes, fabric bead making classes, and an ongoing leather working classes taught by a local leather worker. These workshops are open to all women and all materials are provided.
As a result of our classes, the women have begun to make and sell their designs independently within Peru. Ruraq Maki also purchases and sells the women’s jewelry and all proceeds go to support our education program. Visit our Store to see the women’s designs.
Work Center and Technical School
One of the biggest challenges facing recently released women is a lack of job opportunities and transitional assistance. The women frequently have no other options besides returning to trafficking. As one woman told us:
“There are few jobs in Peru and the jobs that are here are exploitative and abusive. After she left, my friend had to move to Argentina to find work. Now she sells vegetables in the street. When I am released, I will do any work I can find”
–Marleny, Yanamilla Prison
Ruraq Maki’s long-term goal is to create a workspace and skills center that recently released and low-income women can use to create products and access expensive equipment such as sewing machines. This work space will also serve as a central location for the women to sell their goods and receive further technical training so they can continue to expand their skill